Will Petraeus Change Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan?

General David Petraeus, who led the change in counterinsurgency tactics that broke the back of the Sunni insurgency and Iranian-backed Shia militias in the Iraq war, has just been confirmed by the Senate to become the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Petraeus stepped down from his position as commander of United States Central Command -- responsible for operations in 20 countries and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to focus exclusively on trying to win what has now become America's longest continuing war.

Petraeus stepped in to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who resigned last week after he and members of his staff criticized and mocked civilian leadership in a Rolling Stone article.

Even before General Petraeus was named to be McChrystal's replacement, pundits and servicemen alike began wondering if the next commander would consider modifying the current rules of engagement (ROE) in the region. Part of the criticism leveled at McChrystal during his tenure as commander in Afghanistan were rules of engagement that were designed to reduce civilian casualties, even as those rules put servicemen in greater jeopardy.

To encourage NATO troops serving in Afghanistan to hold their fire until it was absolutely necessary, McChrystal had been considering awarding medals for "courageous restraint." That concept had been proposed by British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the NATO commander of troops in southern Afghanistan:

The idea of using awards as another way to encourage soldiers to avoid civilian casualties came from a team that advises NATO on counterinsurgency, or COIN, doctrine, said an official with knowledge of the process. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal is still under review.

"We routinely and systematically recognize valor, courage and effectiveness during kinetic combat operations," said a statement recently posted on the NATO coalition's website by the group, the Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team.

"In a COIN campaign, however, it is critical to also recognize that sometimes the most effective bullet is the bullet not fired," it said.

The concept of "courageous restraint" has not been received warmly by warfighters, many of whom are far more receptive to the quote attributed to another iconic American general played by George C. Scott in the movie Patton: "No poor bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making other bastards die for their country."

William Osborn, no doubt, shares those sentiments. Subject to the rules of engagement authorized under General McChrystal, Osborn's son, Spc. Benjamin Osborn, was part of a military unit that was forced to wait to engage Taliban fighters confronting his MRAP on June 15. When finally allowed by his commanders to fire, Specialist Osborn manned his machine gun, only to be cut down after firing just ten rounds.